Leesburg, Va. — Coming off a tough one-possession loss to Potomac District No. 1 Stone Bridge, the Riverside High School boys basketball team had two missions on their mind coming into their matchup with Freedom on January 22 in Leesburg: celebrate their seniors and get back to their winning ways.
Riverside was able to accomplish both of those things as senior forward Michael Ziller paced the Rams with 21 points and 4 rebounds as Riverside started to pull away in the third quarter and never looked back, 64-53.
“Mike’s really had to increase his scoring repertoire and put his shot creativity on his own back,” Riverside head coach Mike Koscinski said. “And knowing he’s getting the top defensive assignment coming at him every night, he’s really done a great job adjusting to that.”
After a slow start in the first quarter in which he was held scoreless, Ziller got red hot in the second quarter, dropping a dozen points on the Eagles, scoring from the line, the paint, and beyond the arc. This, along with a consistent rebounding effort by Riverside junior forward Cameron Koscinski, gave the Rams a 5-point edge at the half.
Ziller added another 7 points in the third quarter, while Koscinski chipped in 4 points and 3 more rebounds, helping the Rams expand their lead to 44-32 heading into the fourth.
But despite the 12-point lead, the Rams couldn’t celebrate just yet as Freedom junior point guard Elijah Easter was just getting warmed up. After falling into a 14-point deficit early in the fourth, Easter—who finished with a game-high 23 points while adding 6 rebounds—helped the Eagles climb out of the hole, drawing the game to 56-50 with three minutes to play.
“Elijah’s just tough. No matter what you throw at him defensively, he can put up like 6-8 points in a minute. He’s really balling out,” Coach Koscinski said. “He makes a huge impact because he makes them go. He finds shooters, he spaces out your defense, and I’ll tell you what, I don’t think a whole lot of teams have found an answer for stopping him getting to the line.”
Even after all Easter had done, it just wasn’t enough for the Eagles as Ziller’s scoring ability and Koscinski’s 13-point, 10-rebound double double proved to be enough for the Rams to hold on.
“[Cameron]’s a coach’s son, so he does a lot of the little things well,” Coach Koscinski said. “He knew he needed to secure boards; he knew that would keep him on the floor.”
Late in the season, the No. 3 Rams (6-4, 6-4) will need Koscinski and Ziller to continue to step up as they try to battle their way to the top of the Potomac District and throughout the VHSL Region 5C tournament. Easter and the Eagles (2-7, 2-8) continue to battle every night and will make a formidable foe come tournament time.
“We need to play with flow on the offensive end, keep moving the ball, fix some spacing,” Coach Koscinski said. “The tournament’s going to be wide open. Everybody is closing in right now. It’s anybody’s for the taking.”
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